Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Deep Future

I can't say too much as I am reviewing this book for Zadok Perspectives, the quarterly of the Zadok Institute, but I wanted to plug it here as I think it is an interesting and important book: Deep Future, by Curt Stager. It is published in Australia by my good friends at Scribe.

When you read IPCC reports, they deal with what scientist Tim Lenton calls the political timescale, events involving our grandchildren. All of the scenarios and reports look out to about 100 years or the end of the 21st century. But what about beyond that? By considering paleoclimate and the physical processes that govern the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Stager is able to show humans will effect the climate for tens of thousands of years, effectively avoiding an ice ages for half a millennia, turning the seas acidic and so on. It's interesting to pursue the scenarios well out into the future and consider the problem of global cooling and retreating sea levels will have on harbour towns.

For a Christian of course, the whole issue of when the resurrection occurs and how the creation will be redeemed (Rm 8:19-25) comes in to play. Yet a) given we don't know when this will happen and b) the long timescale throws the impacts of what we are doing into even sharper relief I think it is an important book.

It is also well referenced from the scientific literature, and I'd used it already in my teaching.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Climate Change - Cultural Change

A one day symposium of papers, panels and workshops, from scholarly, faith community and grass-roots presenters on climate change, the need for cultural change, and religious responsibilities and responses. 

Date: Saturday 29 October 2011, 8.45am–5.00pm
Where: Centre for Theology and Ministry
Address: 29 College Crescent, Parkville, Victoria, 3052
Keynote address: Professor Norman Habel will present 'Eco-wisdom and Climate Change'
Cost: $55 full, $45 concession (cost includes lunch and refreshments)

For further information go to Trinity College website.

Do Christians concerned about 'the environment' risk becoming pagans? Part 2

In part 1 I discussed more the value or otherwise of labels, missiology and so on. Now let's deal explicitly with the label itself. Changing the focus a little (given what I wrote last time), let's consider the closely related issue of idolatry. Are Christians who are involved in 'environmental' issues or more properly creation care guilty of or in danger of idolatry?

Well I know and have known plenty of middle class Christians who idolise career, the rites of passage European trip, their minister/pastor, denomination or systematic theology, even the bible itself, to say nothing of sex, money, etc. So to point the finger of idolatry (paganism) at so-called 'green' Christians is a non sequiter really.

The key issue is are we at more risk of idolising creation than anyone else is of idolising anything else? I don't think so. Creation declares God's glory (Psalm 19), points to his divine power (Rm 1) and wisdom (Ps 104). Caring for creation itself is an act of worship - so long as we see past the creation itself. More Christians I suggest fail to do this with wealth than they do with trees.

Note none of this excludes human rule - hence Gen 1:26f, but also proper use - tilling and tending (Gn 2:15). However, even the strong language of Gen 1 is moderated by being made in God's image (is God ultimately destructive or creative?) and by creation being God's temple (c.f. Is 66:1). One doesn't descrate God's temple nor reflect his character by destroying what he says is very good with humans in their proper place, yet good even without humanity.

It is also worth noting (I say this so often I am repeating myself) that divine care extends to that which is useless (pre-eco tourism) or otherwise harmful to humanity, so our priorities often shouldn't come into the picture.

So we shouldn't worship church, our ministers, the music, the cute girl we want to date at church, or even the bible itself but God,. Yet we care for all of these things. Why is creation itself any different

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Do Christians concerned about 'the environment' risk becoming pagans? Part 1

As someone who has suggested Christians become active in caring for 'the environment' or more theologically correct 'the creation', even if it means being involved with, following information from and copying those who do not share our faith, I have been labelled a pagan. Is this fair?

In a second part I'll deal with the issue itself - i.e. is creation care itself a pagan practice or do we at least risk becoming so, I want to deal with the biblical critique of idols and what pagan means.

A major part of the Old Testament is a critique of idols and idolatry. It was what sent Israel into exile; idolatry led to an ignoring of the Torah and its emphasis on ethical monotheism; which included sustainable land practices and a reliance on God's provision. A classic example of this is the story of Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah. Ahab followed his wife in idolatrous practices (1 Ki 16:30-34). In 1 Ki 21 is steals another man's ancestral land, his source of livelihood, to make it into a vegetable garden. In 1 Ki 18 Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal, mocking them about their god - is he perhaps on the toilet or asleep (1 Ki 18:27). Such a theology is carried into Romans 1 by Paul - declaring that sins (plural) are the result of idolatry, and indeed are a sign of its punishment.

Modern paganism is on the rise it seems, and some kind of Eco-spirituality undergirds a number of green groups. So what should our approach be?

Firstly, regardless of what we think about environmentalism, pagan should not be a slur. Treat people with respect - we live (for better or worse) in a pluralistic society.

In particular, be slow to label someone who is a brother or sister in Jesus with pagan as a slur. As I'll point out in another post, a thorough biblical theology of creation shows it is something to be valued as coming from the creator for what he says about him, for the gift of its use and for its own sake.

Secondly, it may well be worth reflecting that one of the reasons people turn to paganism in whatever form is that Christianity has often failed to show any value for life in this world, be it peace and justice or regard for our material setting. Blow back perhaps.

Thirdly, Paul shows us the way forward in dealing with those whose beliefs we might find difficult. To be thoroughly mission minded we do not avoid but engage. I think Jesus' principle of being in but not of the world means we can engage in creation care (though more later). When issues of implicit or explicit belief come into play Paul in Acts 17. Paul was provoked (to anger?) at the idols in Athens (v16), yet engages his hearers. He notes that they are very religious, or fearful of gods (v22) and goes on to draw a link between the creator God (v24f) with their poets. Paul builds bridges. Accusations and false denunciations of other Christians, to say nothing of a poor attitude towards those with green sensibilities does not achieve the aims of Christian love or mission.

Next post, what theology do we have to turn to, to engage in green mission without falling pray to syncretism (religious innovation or merging of beliefs).